The idea of a misunderstood athlete is a bit overused these days. Barry Bonds is misunderstood. Kobe Bryant is misunderstood. Ron Artest is misunderstood. Randy Moss is misunderstood. Terrell Owens
You get the picture.
But in a world in which just about every brooding athlete believes he is truly misunderstood, there is at least one who doesn’t believe he is misunderstood. He just thinks people don’t want to understand him.
“There is kind of an age-old saying that has been said about me, and I’ve kind of come to accept it to be true,” Buccaneers DE Simeon Rice says. “For those that understand, there’s no explanation necessary. For those that don’t, no explanation will do.”
Nonetheless, Rice does his best to give people a glimpse into his world in his new book, “Rush to Judgment,” written with Mark Stewart and published by The Lyons Press. Since his college days, Rice has been seen as someone who marched to the beat of a different drummer. He made his own way, and he does his best in his book to explain why he lives his life as he does.
Mind you, he doesn’t try to convert anybody over to his way of thinking, even though he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t think like him. Instead, he decided to write the book to serve a higher purpose than just explaining himself to a world that wants everyone to fit into a certain category.
“More than anything, it’s a guide for any young kid who is going to go to college and have dreams of playing in the NFL,” Rice says. “It’s kind of a guideline or a script that this will follow if you take these routes and this is how you will be interpreted in certain lights. What will maintain you and what will deliver you from all the adversities that will come toward you is your state of mind and your state of purpose and the way that you are. That’s the realness. Oftentimes you can be in the NFL, and because we always kind of categorize or are quick to set standards, (the media) kind of write our stories for us … and you can begin to believe these things that are being said about you. You can think you’re better than you are, worse than you are. So what I did was try to bring it to a head about what you should maintain and what you should believe about yourself.”
Being yourself is a big theme when it comes to Simeon. He has no use for political correctness, and he is willing to put himself in front of the firing line if he believes that what he is saying is right. Controversy has followed him his entire career, but for Rice, he doesn’t believe that he is controversial at all. He simply says what he believes, and somehow, some way, that is a problem for others.
For instance, in the book Rice details the circumstances surrounding his comments that the late Pat Tillman, a former teammate of Rice’s in Arizona, may have seen “too many Rambo movies” and enlisted in the Army after 9/11 because he wasn’t a very good football player
. The comments, made on Jim Rome’s radio show, were widely criticized at the time and especially following Tillman’s death. But for Rice, he never believed he had said anything disparaging because he didn’t have any problem with Tillman’s decision. He wasn’t trying to criticize or make fun of Tillman.
“Back then when they asked me, Pat was alive,” Rice says. “Pat was a teammate of mine. When I went into Jim Rome’s studios, he was like, ‘Why would somebody join the military?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. Rambo movies?’ I was joking. You see what I’m saying. Now it’s like, ‘Simeon, can’t you take that back?’ It’s the truth. I can’t even take that back because it wasn’t meant to be malicious. I was just joking. Then the interview goes (on the air), and it was funny how people reacted. They were like, ‘I hate you, (N-word).’ ‘You’re a big-mouth (N-word).’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’
“It’s like for me, it’s like a starter’s pistol went off, and then bombs started dropping,” Rice says. “I’d be like, damn, that was a starter’s pistol. It’s a cap gun. And this fool is pulling out a real gun. You know what I mean? This is nothing. This isn’t meant to hurt. It’s comedy. Maybe I just didn’t communicate what I was really trying to say because the tone of the conversation was, ‘How can a player give up that much money?’ So Rome asked me, ‘How can someone turn away millions of dollars?’ I was like, first of all, it’s not like we’re talking about Jerry Rice. It’s not like it’s someone with a legendary career. (Tillman) wanted to leave his mark. And I kept saying that. I kept saying that this cat wanted to leave his mark, and he wasn’t going to leave his mark on this game. He feels compelled, he feels like a calling for this, so money is not the factor. I’m looking at it like football isn’t a big deal to (Tillman) anymore. But that didn’t come across well. The backlash for me was something that I learned from. I didn’t mean anything malicious.”
The Simeon Rice experience — and trust us, folks, it’s an experience — comes through loud and clear in the book. He’s much more than just a football player. He certainly is focused on being the best defensive end the game has ever known, but his life doesn’t begin and end on the gridiron. In fact, for as much as he loves the game, football is more of a distraction. It is his job, something that he prepares for and loves and puts all of himself into, but it doesn’t shape the man.
During a 45-minute interview about his book, I asked Rice exactly six questions. The rest of the time, Rice talked not only about why he wanted to write a book, but also about his principles and beliefs in life. “Rush to Judgment” is more about how he puts those principles and beliefs into practice without preaching that others should follow him.
Rice also talks about the two-faced nature of the game, especially when it comes to free agency. When Rice’s contract in Arizona expired following the 2000 season, he was stunned to discover that he had a reputation throughout the league of being a problem in the locker room.
“I had more sacks in five years than anybody else in the history of this game,” Rice says. “I was the fastest one to reach 100 sacks in NFL history and all that. So I’m going out there on the market and I’m wondering, ‘So, what does the market have to offer?’ And the market was like, ‘Nothing. Simeon is a cancer in the locker room.’ I was like, ‘Wow, where did all this stem from?’ I was the same cat after practice; this was like fake world to me. This was like ‘Knots Landing.’ This is like ‘Dallas.’ ”
Rice says all this both in the book and in interviews without a hint of cockiness. He’s confident in his place in the football hierarchy, and the numbers back him up. He has posted double-digit sacks in seven of his nine NFL seasons, yet he has been selected to the Pro Bowl just three times. He was shut out this season after posting 12 sacks and continuing to be a dominating defender on the outside.
But again, Rice’s book isn’t about him trying to pump up his place in history. Far from it. He makes it clear that he isn’t looking for awards and honors, and he certainly didn’t write the book to try to draw more attention to himself on the field.
“I know I’m the best,” Rice says. “I don’t need anybody to qualify it. I’m sitting on top of this league every year. I’m in the top two or top three in sacks every year. That lets me know where I stand from a layman’s standpoint, from a playing standpoint. I know the games I go out and dominate.”
Rice decided to put the book together because he believes there is a difference between Simeon Rice the NFL player and Simeon Rice the man. Rice the NFL player is viewed by many not as a cerebral man whose interests lie far outside the gridiron. Instead, many see him as a problem player who is a close friend of controversy.
“I’m not depicted in that (good) light,” Rice says. “I’m more of a renegade. I’m required because I’m Darth Vader. They’ve got Luke Skywalker. They’ve got the individuals that they love. They’ve got the cats they revere in this league. They’ve got the Peyton Mannings, and for good reason. He’s a damn good player, but he’s got this image that they create that makes it seem like he’s so pure and nice, and it’s dope. It’s a good package. And I like Peyton because he’s a good dude. But what I’m saying is that they sell that image.”
The book not only allowed Rice to provide a guideline for others, but maybe more importantly, it allowed him to review from whence he came. From a tough, no-excuses upbringing on the south side of Chicago to the excesses with women as a rising star at the University of Illinois to the fame and riches of the NFL, “Rush to Judgment” is a non-filtered look at the life of a rare man.
“I think to answer the age-old misconception of who I am, what I stand for, what I’m about and how I go about my lifestyle and what I do,” Rice says of why he decided to write the book. “From the past experience in the NFL, I was always vastly misinterpreted just from the way I speak, to the way I identify myself with greatness and the way I went about my role as a leader on the team. As opposed to just letting those things go, I kind of wanted to drop bread crumbs back to how I came about to being how I am.”
Misunderstood. Plenty of athletes claim to be that without taking the time to explain themselves. “Rush to Judgment” allows Rice to do just that, all without trying to be a part of the crowd.
“I don’t live in the world of the crowd,” Rice says. “If the crowd screamed because I’m doing well, that don’t mean s--- to me. If they boo me because I’m doing bad, that don’t mean s--- to me. I’m going to live by my own certain code, the keys of my life, the successes of my life, the beauty of my life, and the will of my life. I’m going to live by the standards that God set forth for me to live, not in the minds of individuals. Some people wake up, and they’ve got the noose around their neck and hundreds of pills. They’ve got the windows closed and the sheets over their heads because they don’t want to face the reality. I can face mine because I understand that it’s not so tough. I understand that sports are my career and I love it, but it doesn’t shape my life. It doesn’t define everything about me. It doesn’t. It’s bread crumbs.”